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Send tracks from Amazon Music to Alexa devices with Alexa Cast

July 26, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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LightRocket via Getty Images

Today, Amazon announced that users listening to music through the Amazon Music app can now cast their tunes to any Alexa-enabled speaker from their phone. The feature is called, unsurprisingly, Alexa Cast.

These sorts of built-in controls for listening on external speakers have been sorely missing from Amazon Music and have held it back from becoming a true rival to services like Spotify and Apple Music. The Amazon Music listening experience was not seamless, unless you wanted to use your voice. But now, thanks to Alexa Cast, it’s one step closer to being a full-fledged music service.

The update is available today, and users need only update their Amazon Music app on iOS or Android to access it. Once you’re in the updated app, simply find the cast icon, and any Amazon or Alexa-enabled speakers you have should be listed.

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Alexa can now tell you the phone number of your favorite store

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Engadget

Amazon has been working to make its voice assistant more Alexa more useful to users, and this latest feature will certainly help with that. The company is adding the hours, phone numbers and addresses of over a million businesses to Alexa’s database.

Now, according to Bloomberg, users can simply ask Alexa to tell them the phone number or hours of a store, rather than having to look them up on their phones or computers. As long as your address is entered into the Amazon Alexa app, the skill will provide localized data.

This data results from a partnership with Yext, Inc., which stores information about 1.2 million business. The company also provides data to Alphabet’s Google, which is the company that Amazon is targeting with this new push.

Recently, Google announced a new program called Shopping Actions that would, in essence, promote retail brands other than Amazon through its searches. Companies such as Target, Home Depot, Walmart and Costco are participating. Product search results show up in a dedicated sidebar, which people are more likely to click than the regular list. A report from Reuters claimed that this was an effort to counter the popularity of Amazon’s Alexa for shopping. It seems as though the fight between these two online giants is ramping up.

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Adorable home robot Kuri is being discontinued

July 25, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Kuri

Cute mechanical companion Kuri is no more. In a blog post published today, manufacturer Mayfield Robotics said that operations have been paused while it evaluates the company’s future, and that pre-orders of the adorable home robot will not be filled (all pre-order deposits will be refunded).

Mayfield Robotics, part of the Bosch Startup Platform, was established in 2015 with a bold vision to domesticate robots. Kuri was designed to be neither traditionally functional (like a vacuum cleaner), nor educational, but was intended to enter the home as a family member, reading to kids, playing with pets and taking photos of precious family moments.

The first Kuri units were priced at $700 apiece — relatively affordable for the tech involved but nonetheless expensive for a robot that didn’t really do much. Interest in Kuri was high, but pre-orders were low. As Mayfield’s blog post notes, “there was not a business fit within Bosch to support and scale [the] business.” Crowdfunded “social robot” Jibo faced a similar issue, failing to scale as backers hoped it would.

The decision arguably reflects the wider robotics industry. Droids are improving, but putting a cute face on them doesn’t make them useful, and usefulness is what’s going to sell products. Look at virtual assistants on smart speakers, such as Amazon’s Alexa. These have become commonplace in modern homes because they have tangible purpose — and are, of course, considerably more affordable. At this stage in robotics R&D, poor adorable Kuri could never compete.

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Alexa can crank the bass on your Echo when you ask

July 23, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

AOL

Amazon is giving you more control over audio with an Alexa update that lets you adjust the equalizer and sound modes using your voice. So if you think the music you’re listening to on your Amazon Echo could use a touch more low end, asking Alexa to increase the bass should do just that. More specifically, the bands you can tweak are bass, midrange and treble. Alexa can also switch your Echo to a number of EQ presets as well, including for movies, music, sports and TV.

The update is rolling out to US users today across the various Echo devices, as well as some third-party smart speakers that use Alexa, including the new Sonos Beam. If you have that soundbar, you could, for instance, switch to night mode to balance loud and quiet noises in a movie so you don’t bother anyone else in your home late at night. Amazon is opening up the equalizer function to let developers add it to more speakers, so it could be available on other devices soon.

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Amazon’s Echo Show lets users tap the screen to access Alexa

July 23, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

OATH

Amazon is making it easier for those with hearing and speech impairments to utilize Alexa. Starting today, the Echo Show will have an option to toggle on a new feature called “Tap to Alexa,” which will let users tap the device’s screen to access the digital assistant. The feature includes shortcuts to common Alexa items like weather, timers, news and traffic, and users can also type out Alexa commands. Additionally, while Amazon launched its Alexa captioning feature in the US a few months ago, it’s now releasing that feature to users in the UK, Germany, Japan, India, France, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

To activate Tap to Alexa, head over to the Echo Show’s device settings, select the accessibility settings and switch the feature on. You can then select which presents you want to use, type in personalized commands and set up shortcuts for Routines. Alexa Captioning can be turned on from there as well. Amazon told CNET that it’s working to add Tap to Alexa to the Echo Spot, though there’s no timeline set for that upgrade.

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Recommended Reading: The accent struggle for Alexa and Google Assistant

July 21, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Engadget

The accent gap
Drew Harwell,
The Washington Post

Smart speakers (and the virtual assistants they house) offer voice control for so many connected devices it’s hard to keep count. Those audio gadgets can also assist with a range of questions — that is, if they can understand you. The Washington Post took a close look at the performance of Alexa and Google Assistant when it comes to understanding people with strong accents. The results show that while these devices are certainly handy and increasingly popular, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

Zuckerberg: The Recode interview
Kara Swisher,
Recode

The Facebook CEO covered a range of topics, including its evolving approach to fake news and a comment about Holocaust deniers that warranted a clarification afterwards.

For one last night, make it a Blockbuster night
Justin Heckert,
The Ringer

News of the one remaining Blockbuster store in the US circulated late last week, and The Ringer examined the end of an era.

The gospel according to Pusha T
Josie Duffy Rice,
The Atlantic

An interesting profile on the Kanye West protégé following the release of his latest album Daytona.

My search for the spirit of Prime Day at an Ariana Grande concert in a giant Amazon box
Hudson Hongo,
Gizmodo

Just trust me on this one.

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GE's Alexa microwave cooks when you scan a barcode

July 17, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

GE Appliances

Want to know just how connected even a relatively ordinary microwave has become? Just ask GE Appliances. The brand has unveiled the Smart Countertop Microwave with Scan-to-Cook, which touts both Alexa voice control compatibility and its namesake scanning feature to speed up your culinary duties. The Alexa support is fairly self explanatory (you can use an Alexa device to add time or stop cooking), but Scan-to-Cook could be particularly helpful if you hate interpreting instructions on food boxes. You just have to scan a barcode on the packaging with a mobile app and it’ll choose the appropriate time and power levels. In other words, you shouldn’t risk ruining your macaroni the first time you nuke it.

There are more than 3,000 meal items in the microwave’s database to start (including frozen, refrigerated and shelf-safe foods), but GE Appliances is promising an expanded catalog over time.

Beyond that, the main allure is the price. While this isn’t the lowest-cost microwave you’ll find at a $139 regular price, it’s arguably smarter than machines costing considerably more — you might rarely need to touch the buttons on the microwave itself to set cooking times. And while there’s the hidden cost of an Alexa device to get the most value out of your purchase, that might not be an issue if you act quickly. GE Appliances is offering a “limited time” deal that bundles an Echo Dot speaker with the microwave for $125, making it a fairly safe choice if you were hoping to create a voice-controlled household.

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What you need to know before building a HiFi system

July 16, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

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The process of building a stereo can be overwhelming. Should you buy new gear or trawl the local stereo shop for vintage equipment? Do you need a subwoofer for music? Are high-end speaker cables really going to make a difference in sound? It’s no wonder, then, that smart speakers have become so popular: They’re available in a variety of sizes and, when paired with a music streaming subscription, are a simple way to access a world of music. But the trade-off for that convenience is sound quality.

While an Echo or HomePod is perfect for listening to podcasts, it can’t stack up to the power and fidelity you get with a traditional stereo. If you’re looking to upgrade, rather than ponying up $500 for a single Google Home Max, consider an alternative solution: building your own stereo HiFi system. While the initial setup and research are more intensive than simply telling Alexa to order more Echo Dots, after it’s done you’ll have a much more versatile — not to mention better-sounding — way to listen to music at home.

A quick note about digital versus analog

We aren’t going to debate the merits of which sounds better in this piece, but it’s important to talk about the differences between analog and digital. For stereo purists, there’s nothing better than using woven copper cable and RCA jacks to connect their gear. But if you want the best sound, the quality of the connection counts, and that factor can be influenced by everything from the length of speaker wire you’re using to how much magnetic interference is in your home.

Stereo gear isn’t required to offer anything beyond analog inputs, and for purists who want to keep it as old-school as possible, that’s a big draw. However, analog gear does have a shortcoming: Some older equipment can take time to fully “warm up” before it achieves peak sound quality. On the other hand, digital signals don’t fall prey to these sorts of things. They’re binary, meaning there’s no quality difference depending on the type of cable you buy or how long a piece of equipment has been turned on. A digital signal either works or it doesn’t — there’s no in between.

[embedded content] Picking an amp

If you’re going to use passive speakers, you’ll need an amplifier to power them. But should you get a stereo receiver or an integrated amp? That depends on how much you listen to AM/FM radio. A receiver is a receiver because, well, it’s receiving broadcast signals. It still has an amplifier built in, but there’s a radio tuner inside as well. If you’d rather skip that, look for an integrated amp. It’s really that simple. There can be a few benefits in choosing an amp over a receiver too, like cleaner design and smaller overall size. That’s in addition to not spending money on a feature you may ultimately never use.

New or vintage?

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Acer adds a free Echo Dot to its Alexa-equipped laptops

July 13, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Acer

If you’ve been eyeing Acer’s Alexa-enabled laptops, you may want to check out the company’s deals on Amazon for Prime subscribers. The manufacturer has slashed $50 off all available models’ prices, which really isn’t that much — good thing Acer is also giving out a free Echo Dot speaker with every purchase. These laptops come built-in with Amazon’s voice assistant, and you can ask it questions and access skills like you would on one of the tech giant’s Echo speakers.

The available models include some of the first Alexa-equipped laptops on the market, including convertibles like the Acer Nitro 5 Spin made for students and casual gamers. There’s also the Spin 5, another convertible that has various configurations, including different display sizes and processors. Of course, some models from Acer’s Aspire series are also in the list if you’re looking something more affordable than the convertibles, which are priced between $800 to $1,000.

These deals are active right now ahead of Prime Day sales on July 16th, so you can pull the trigger whenever you want. You can sign up for Prime’s trial period in case you don’t have a subscription yet — just take note that you’ll have to pony up $119 a year after the trial is over.

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Alexa voice control arrives for select DirecTV set-top boxes

July 12, 2018 — by Engadget.com0

Nathan Ingraham / Engadget

If you have DirecTV and you’re fed up of having to use an old-fashioned remote to get to the content you want to watch, starting today, you can just holler at Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant to do the work for you. Alexa is now compatible with the Genie HR44, HR54, Genie 2 and Genie Mini set-top boxes.

You’ll first need to connect your DirecTV account to Alexa, which you can control with (for instance) an Echo, a mobile app or the new Fire TV Cube. It’s then a matter of using your voice to play, rewind and record shows, or change the channel. You can search for what you want to watch too, such as movies starring a certain actor. It’s a far cry from the old days of voice control, before remotes existed, when you would just ask a child to get up and switch the channel on the TV itself.